The Government’s Zero Trust Strategy Explained

March 14, 2023

Zero trust is a comprehensive security framework that aims to safeguard critical government systems by assuming that every asset, network, and user is untrustworthy until proven otherwise. In 2021, the White House issued an executive order to address the need for stronger enterprise-level cybersecurity across the government, followed by an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo assigning responsibility for building and implementing zero trust frameworks to the heads of executive departments and agencies. Since then, multiple agencies, including the Department of Defense, have developed their own zero trust frameworks, all of which are supported by the OMB as helpful.

To keep companies and their resources safe, the White House’s executive order on zero trust states that agencies working within the federal government must meet these specific cybersecurity standards by the end of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024. Organizations and their software must comply with these standards in order to sell and deploy solutions onto classified DoD and national security networks.  

Second Front Systems™ mission aligns closely with the Zero Trust Strategy and the need for security. That is why Second Front offers its secure DevSecOps and hosting product, Game Warden® platform, to enable commercial SaaS companies to supply defense and national security professionals with fast, long-term continuous access to emerging technologies. Continue reading to learn more about the DoD’s Zero Trust Strategy and discover how the Game Warden Builder can help companies seamlessly develop Zero-Trust-friendly applications.

What is the Zero Trust Strategy?

Zero trust is a security framework originating from the private sector. It is designed to reduce attack surfaces, and enable the management of a more complete range of risks including: policy, programming, budgeting, execution, and cybersecurity-specific concerns etc. Zero trust was initially coined in the 1990s and quickly developed into a thorough architecture with many significant contributors, like John Kindervag who published "No More Chewy Centers: Introducing the Zero Trust Model of Information Security" during his time at Forrester Research

The strategy is defined by five foundational tenets: 

  1. Assume a Hostile Environment: Organizations should assume that all networks and devices are compromised and are being actively targeted by malicious actors. This means that all traffic, whether internal or external, should be inspected and validated before granting access to any resource.
  2. Presume Breach: Organizations should operate under the assumption that their networks have already been breached. This means that they should continuously monitor all traffic for signs of malicious activity and limit access to sensitive resources to only those who need it.
  3. Never Trust, Always Verify: Access to all resources, including users, devices, applications, and data, should be granted on a least-privileged basis and continuously authenticated, authorized, and verified before granting access. Organizations should also implement strict identity and access management policies to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive resources.
  4. Scrutinize Explicitly: All network traffic and data should be inspected and validated using explicit policies and procedures. Organizations should also maintain a complete and accurate inventory of all devices, applications, and data on their network.
  5. Apply Unified Analytics: Organizations should use a unified approach to analytics to detect and respond to malicious activity across their networks. This includes using a combination of machine learning, behavioral analytics, and threat intelligence to detect and respond to threats in real-time.

Zero Trust Implementation

A strategy without implementation is just words on a page. Thankfully, the DoD has a Seven Pillar implementation framework that can make the strategy real and actionable.

The seven pillars of the DoD Zero Trust Strategy address each aspect of the security environment and its components.

The seven pillars of the DoD Zero Trust Strategy can be summarized by the following points: 

  1. Users: Verification and validation of users through multiple factors to ensure identity and access management security.
  2. Devices: Authentication and authorization of devices to access network resources and prevent unauthorized device connections.
  3. Network & Environment: Ensuring that network resources are protected and only accessible based on authorized and authenticated usage.
  4. Data: Classifying, labeling and protecting sensitive data through encryption, data loss prevention, and access controls.
  5. Analytics: Implementing monitoring and detection systems for identifying abnormal or suspicious behavior to detect and respond to incidents quickly.
  6. Applications and Workloads: Securing and monitoring application services and workloads to reduce the attack surface of an application.
  7. Automation and Orchestration: Automating and orchestrating security tasks to enable rapid response to threats and policy changes.

These pillars form the basis of a comprehensive approach to zero trust that aims to safeguard critical government systems. Other OMB-supported zero trust implementation frameworks include: 

The Impact of Zero Trust Strategy for DoD SaaS Contractors

Implementing zero trust in your organization entails that all users and devices are no longer automatically trusted, and must be continuously authenticated, authorized, and configured. This is not an easy undertaking despite the benefits it brings for security posture.

Because zero trust is an enterprise-level strategy, some individual agencies and other government components feel that there is little they can do alone to effectively leverage the strategy. In addition to this, decades of firewalls and traditional perimeter-based security architectures present difficulties to migrating to a zero trust architecture. In industry, where zero trust first arose, it is easier to employ zero trust because of a more centralized command structure. The slow bureaucratic nature of government policy making, and lack of unification and reciprocity across zero trust frameworks further hinders the effectiveness of a government-wide zero trust strategy.

The most efficient way to achieve zero trust compliance for software is to incorporate security at the starting point of the development pipeline. Second Front’s Game Warden Builder is an ideal option for achieving this early zero trust implementation.

What is the Easiest Way to Implement the Zero Trust Strategy?

Similar to the concept of DevSecOps, zero trust involves a combination of cultural practices and virtual tools that creates a balanced framework to achieve software security goals from the start of development. Because of the complexity of these frameworks, delivering software to the DoD can be costly and time-consuming. To this end, Game Warden, built with DoD compliance in mind, provides baked-in security with dynamic access controls, 24/7 continuous monitoring, and active cyber defense. It gives companies the tools to build, test, and deploy software up to DoD Impact Level (IL) 5 environments. With Game Warden, companies can inherit a continuous Authority to Operate (cATO), so they can go-to-market and earn revenue faster, cheaper, and easier than contemporary accreditation methods all while adhering to Zero Trust standards. 

“DoD Security and compliance should not be an add-on,” said Enrique Oti, Chief Technology Officer of Second Front Systems. “With the right tools and processes, customers can be compliant with DoD standards from the outset, and this will also help make their products more secure in the commercial environment as well.”

Sign up for Game Warden Builder pre-release updates and learn how it can accelerate your software deployment to classified defense networks with built-in zero-trust controls.

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